Authors: Theresa Alan
Trevor, eight, and Dillon, four, were strange-looking, with dark, sunken eyes, sullen expressions, and too-large heads. They looked dim-witted, as if they’d been dropped on their heads as babies.
Dad had dated some cool women since the separation, and Deanne wasn’t smart enough, witty enough, or classy enough for him. I just couldn’t take her seriously. I thought Dad would surely come to his senses soon.
My friends thought that I wouldn’t like Dad to fall for anyone who wasn’t my mom, but that wasn’t true. I’d spent too many years listening to my parents endlessly bicker about money and mortgage payments and credit card bills to think they could possibly be any good for each other anymore. I wanted him to find somebody. Somebody who wasn’t Deanne.
I did my best to be polite when I was around Deanne and her kids, but it was a relief to go back to school so I could stop the charade.
The next time I came for a visit was late in March, over spring break. I stayed with Mom and Sienna again—the house Dad was renting was small and every available inch of space was taken up with power tools and carpentry supplies. On my second night home, Dad took me to a fancy restaurant. He joked around over appetizers and salads, but as the entrees were being served, his expression became serious.
“I have something to tell you,” he said.
“I proposed to Deanne a few days ago and she accepted.”
“What? I had no idea you were even thinking about marriage.”
“Deanne’s very eager to get married. She pointed out that at her age, she can’t afford to waste her time in a relationship that’s not going anywhere.”
“So basically, she bullied you into proposing.”
“I’ve just come to see that this is the best thing.”
The best thing, like having a hysterectomy was better than having cancer or saving one cojoined twin was better than letting them both die. Like he wasn’t happy about it, but he didn’t see what else he could do.
I sat there for a moment in stunned silence. “But you’re still married,” was all I could manage.
“Your mom and I met yesterday, and we got the last details agreed on. It’s been three years. Three bitter years. We’re ready to be done with it. The divorce should be final by the end of the month.”
“So when is the wedding?”
“August. We’d like you and Sienna to be bridesmaids.”
I agreed, but after I returned to school, an uneasiness settled into my stomach that wouldn’t go away.
I stayed in town at school that summer, waitressing at a Mexican restaurant known as
place in town for margaritas. I told Mom and Dad that I was staying in town because I didn’t want to lose my job, but that was only partly true. I didn’t come home because I didn’t think I could handle it. Sienna made it sound like she was living on a set of a soap opera. Every day was filled with overblown theatrics and hysteria. Mom was crying daily over the fact that Dad was moving on so quickly while she was still reeling from the demise of her marriage. Dad was going through life mechanically, doing what Deanne told him to do.
Sienna and I talked often that summer. Whenever our conversation came around to Deanne, our words began flooding out, tumbling over each other’s. We didn’t care that we interrupted each other and essentially had the same conversation a thousand times. We just wanted to talk, to get all the tangled emotions out.
“Dad dated so many cool, intelligent women since the separation,” I said, for the twentieth time that summer. “Women who were funny and had a shred of personality. I thought he’d get bored of Deanne, find someone worthy of him. Instead, she’s the one he’s marrying.”
“I was staying over at their new house last weekend—can you believe they got a new house already?” Sienna said. “A month after the divorced is finalized they’re moving into this enormous place. It’s got five bedrooms and a swimming pool. She works as an assistant to a tax attorney. She’s like an administrative assistant or something, so I’m sure she can’t help out that much financially. I don’t know how the hell they could afford the place. Anyway, I woke up and came downstairs and nobody was around. There were fresh-baked muffins on the counter. I assumed they were for breakfast, so I had one. When Deanne came in from the garage, she started screaming at me about how those were for Trevor’s Sunday school class, and now she had to bake a whole new batch because now she was one short and how I was so selfish, doing whatever I wanted without thinking about anyone but myself. She started throwing pots and pans around, I mean, it was scary. She just lost it. I know she wouldn’t have gone off at me like that—”
“And over something so stupid…”
“—If Dad had been around. It was like her eyes rolled into her head and her head spun around a few times and she just revealed the monster inside that’s been lurking under the surface all along.”
“I can’t believe she called you selfish. You’re the nicest, least selfish person I know.”
“It gets better,” Sienna continued. “Have you gotten the bridesmaid pattern in the mail yet?”
“She’s sending you the pattern and the material, and you have to go find someone to make it. She’s talking about how nice it is of her to buy the material so all we have to pay for is the seamstress. It’s like, hello, it’s Dad’s money. Anyway, the material is pastel flowers…”
“It is not.”
“Oh, yes, it is, big ones. The pattern calls for a bow on the butt…”
“Yes. I mean it’s not huge. It’s this kind of country look. Country bumpkin really. And it has these puffy half-sleeves on the arms. The skirt billows out so it makes your butt look enormous.”
“How could she?” Not that it was actually a surprise, or at least, shouldn’t have been. But still, I was not happy.
I came home a few weeks before the wedding to help get things ready. Even though Sienna had told me about the house, I was blown away by how luxurious it was. Sienna and I had grown up in a modest two-bedroom. I couldn’t imagine how they could afford this.
It was so strange staying with Deanne. I didn’t know if I was imagining it, but every time Deanne looked at me, she did so with venom in her eyes. One night when Dad had to work late at the office, Deanne made dinner just for her and her kids. She didn’t even offer me any. It was the weirdest thing. I said, “Well, I guess I’ll make some mac and cheese,” expecting her to say I could have some of the casserole with them, but she didn’t say anything. I felt like such an outcast. I didn’t feel I belonged at all.
Over and over I was reminded
this is not my home
by little things, like the fact the paper towels were kept under the sink instead of on the counter like they were when I was growing up, or how the brand of cereal she bought was something my family would never buy. In the weeks before the wedding, in my eagerness to do away with the awkward rift between us, I logged countless hours doing little things for the wedding, like assembling dozens of little bags of candy-covered almonds (which took
), getting everything ready to get to the reception site, and running around doing other little last-minute stuff. She never thanked me for anything, and, in fact, she did her best not to talk to me. Even when I worked across the kitchen table from Deanne preparing a hundred bottles of bubbles for the guests to blow as Dad and Deanne exited the church, we worked in silence. And she never once said thank you. At that point, I was officially pissed off at how this woman was treating me, so I said, sarcastically, “You’re welcome for the help.”
“What do you want me to do, give you a medal? I think your father paying for your ridiculously expensive education should be reward enough.”
Her comment took me aback. I started thinking defensive thoughts like,
pay for school. I’ve won scholarships…I work twenty-five hours a week…plus, I’ve taken out enough student loans to keep me in serious debt until well into my thirties…
I told myself it was stupid to get defensive, but I couldn’t help it. You don’t grow up in a family where money ignited arguments daily and not know about the tension and quiet bitterness money can create.
I felt so acutely lonely after just a couple weeks there. It was very clear that Deanne thought of my sister and me as mooches siphoning money away that she thought should be hers.
It was an outdoor wedding. I followed Deb, Sienna, and Deanne’s sisters down the aisle—step together, step together. We stood flanking the altar beneath the searing hot sun. In minutes, my makeup was melting, my hair was shellacked with sweat to my forehead and neck. I ran my tongue across the salty perspiration of my upper lip and looked over the expansive lawn at guests I didn’t know, watching Dad in his plastered-on smile marrying a stranger, marrying a woman he didn’t particularly seem to like.
I was there to see Dad into a new life. I certainly wasn’t there because I was happy for them. I was there because I had to be. I was a prop in a flowered dress, wilting beneath the August sun.
Dad and Deanne didn’t go on a honeymoon. She’d bought a brand new fifty thousand dollar car instead. I just wished them good luck and hightailed it back to the safe haven of college.
Over the next couple of years, my relationship with my father grew strained. He suddenly stopped paying tuition, and then the university would send me very bitchily worded letters threatening to kick me out of school if I didn’t get money to them right away. I knew it was Deanne’s doing. My sister’s and my education had always been a huge priority for Dad. He hadn’t let me work in high school, saying I should focus on my studies, which I did. He’d agreed to pay college tuition and rent for both Sienna and me, and it would be up to us to pay for food, books, utility bills, clothes, and everything else. Then Deanne came into his life, and suddenly he wondered if we shouldn’t be paying for school entirely ourselves, despite the fact that we hadn’t been able to save money because it had been his policy not to let us work in high school. Mom made peanuts at the time, so she couldn’t help out financially, as Dad well knew.
Dad and I had made a deal on how I could finance my education, and now the rules were being changed. Now, with Deanne in his life, the mind games began. He always ended up paying the tuition bill eventually, but he always paid it late, leaving me constantly stressed out and terrified to open my mail. Because of this, and because our lives were in such different places, trying to maintain a relationship was a challenge. Every phone call was tense—trying to make conversation was hard. I would brag about the good grades I got—and I always got good grades, that one D in trigonometry my senior year being the only aberration on that score—and he would tell me about whatever carpentry work he was doing in his spare time, and then, after being on the phone less than five minutes, we’d give up and say our good-byes. That’s when I learned that you should never count on a man to be the breadwinner. It’s better not to rely on a man, especially when he can change the rules on you at any moment.
I can’t say that when Deanne left Dad within two years of their marriage, leaving him for another man, I was upset to see Deanne go, though my heart broke for Dad.
It was just a few weeks before my graduation when Sienna called me to tell me the news. I’d been studying for finals all day and was distracted when I answered the phone.
“They’re divorced,” she said.
“Another man has already moved in.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The whole thing only took three weeks.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
“I only found out from Dad yesterday. You know how Dad can go for months forgetting he has daughters. I’m used to not hearing from him. But here’s the deal, Deanne told Dad he wasn’t good enough for her and she was in love with another man, and she wanted a divorce. Dad’s been completely whacked out. It’s like he’s in a coma. Deanne took advantage of his shock and ravaged him financially. He was too stunned to fight back. She took everything. The house, the new car, most of the furniture—even the stuff he made. She’s been dating this new guy for six months. Six months. Dad had no idea.” Sienna broke down then. Her words came between jagged sobs. “He just looks so bad, you know? He’s popping Prozac by the handful. He’s got medication to help him sleep, but when I saw him earlier today, he said he hasn’t slept in three days. He’s blaming himself, saying he’s a failure. I’m really worried about him. I think he might lose his job, he’s missing so much work lately.”
“Sienna, I don’t believe it. I can’t believe even Deanne could be that heartless.”
“The one thing Dad wanted from the house was the fence. You know that fence he spent all summer on? I don’t know if you ever got to see it, but it was super-detailed and intricate. He was really proud of it, you know? And she won’t give it to him. She says it’s part of the property.”
“But he built that fence. She didn’t even want it.”
“I know. It’s just so petty. Like she’s deliberately trying to hurt him as much as possible.”
When Dad came out for my graduation, he seemed even worse than what Sienna had described. He chain-smoked; he rarely spoke; he spent a lot of time staring at nothing in particular. He moved as if in a fugue, distant and lethargic.
Those weeks after Sienna told me about the divorce, I couldn’t sleep. I was so furious. I cried countless tears of frustration and anger. I was mad about everything: Mad at Dad for marrying her in the first place; mad at Deanne for having such a poisonous effect on my relationship with Dad; mad about the way Deanne had hurt him. Somehow, what pissed me off the most was her refusal to give him that stupid fence.
It was the one thing from their marriage that meant anything to him.
But our family lost the war, and to the victor goes the spoils. The fence was, after all, just a thing. It’s easy to forget that sometimes.
Watching my father go through the carnage of a second divorce only reinforced my belief that marriage isn’t for everyone, and divorce, if at all possible, shouldn’t be for anyone.